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A Case Study in Non-Traditional Pack Dynamics

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Carey and Kayla are already seated by the time PK gets to the restaurant.

"Sorry I'm late!" PK says, weaving his way through the tables.

"You're right on time," Kayla says. She stands up and they exchange cheek kisses.

Carey stays seated. PK drops a big smacking kiss on the top of his head to spite him.

"You invited PK to this?" Carey says to Kayla. He looks pissier than usual.

"Well, you're going to have to bring him along anyway," Kayla says.

"Bring me where?" PK asks, flipping his menu open.

"The Greater Pacific Northwest Werewolf Symposium," Kayla says. "Duh."

::

There's more wolves in the NHL than any other kind of shifter. Something about the pack structure and winter sports. Everyone knows Carey is a wolf, just like they know his mom is the alpha of one of the larger packs in BC. (Not alpha, that's the human word, he supposed to say dayi.)

Apparently it's just as big a deal to the wolves as it is to the media, which is why Carey has to go to the Symposium.

"It makes mom look stronger, to have you there to support her, since you have your own pack and all," Kayla says.

"The Habs aren't my pack," Carey says, like he's had this argument before. Wolves apparently think of all sports teams as packs.

"We kind of are," PK says, just to stir the pot, and Carey gives him a dirty look.

"It's all political bullshit, but you know it will make mom happy," Kayla explains.

"Yeah, yeah, I'll be there," Carey says. "But why does PK have to come?"

"C'mon, you know everyone thinks he's your nelagui," Kayla says. "If you show up without him it makes you look either weak or available."

Carey makes a face.

"What's a nelagui?" PK asks.

Carey raises his eyebrows pointedly at Kayla but she just raises hers right back and doesn't say anything.

Carey huffs out an exasperate breath. "It's like -- the pack enforcer, my second-in-command."

"And your mate," Kayla says.

"Not always," Carey says, glaring.

"But I'm not a wolf," PK says.

"That's okay. If you're the dayi's mate, you don't have to be a wolf to be the nelagui," Kayla says.

"So when you say they'll think Carey is 'available' if I'm not there..."

"Mom will be trying to set him up with every single wolf-lady at the Symposium," Kayla says gleefully.

Carey looks deeply pained.

"Amazing," PK says.

"It will make everyone's life easier if you bring PK along," Kayla says.

"Fine," Carey says.

"No, no, you have to ask him nicely," Kayla says.

PK rests his chin on his hand and looks attentively at Carey.

Carey sighs deeply. "Pernell Karl Subban, will you pretend to be my alternate pack-leader--"

"And mate," Kayla says.

"And mate," Carey repeats dutifully, "at the Greater Pacific Northwest Werewolf Symposium?"

PK grins. "Absolutely."

::

The Symposium is scheduled for the first weekend in July, around the new moon.

It's almost enough time for PK to get over the sting of losing in the Conference Final again. He's looking forward to seeing Carey again, anyway.

Carey sends him an e-ticket to Whistler, along with a note, I'll meet you at the airport. Kayla sends him the agenda.

The Werewolf Symposium has an actual agenda. PK can't get over it.

Carey picks him up in a shiny black rented SUV on Thursday. The Symposium is at some high end eco-tourism lodge that PK's never heard of, tucked away in the forest up against the edge of the Garibaldi Provincial Park. They're going to get there in time to check in and maybe take a nap before the Welcome Reception.

"Thanks for doing this," Carey says as they drive.

"Are you kidding? This is going to be so cool. Have you seen this agenda? Sustainable Hunting in a Changing Climate? Found Packs: the Dynamics of Multispecies Pack Structures? A facilitated workshop on best practices for resolving boundary disputes in urban territories? Midnight Howl? Can we go to, like, all of these?"

Carey snorts. "When you've been to one presentation on non-traditional pack dynamics, you've been to all of them."

"Yeah, you know what I've never been to?"

Carey grins. "We can go to whatever you want."

The hotel looks like something that would call itself a lodge but charge you several hundred dollars a night, all rough-hewn wood and slate tile and pine-heavy foliage arrangements.

Kayla meets them in the lobby, sweaty and in workout clothes.

"Mom's taking a nap before the Welcome Reception, and I've gotta shower and change," she says. "But dinner after the reception?"

"What kind of dinner?" Carey asks, with a quick glance at PK.

"Restaurant dinner," Kayla says. "No one's hunting down a deer tonight."

Carey doesn't roll his eyes at that, so maybe it's not a joke?

"All right, sounds good," Carey says. "We'll see you at the reception."

"Remember to do something about the whole--" Kayla circles her hand in PK's direction "--scent situation before you come down, okay?"

Carey's mouth flattens out. "Okay," he says, in a tone of voice that means he's done with the conversation.

PK picks up his bags. "So what room are we in?"

They're on the third floor, in a big room with a king bed and more of that hipster lumberjack design aesthetic. But the windows look out onto the forest, and the sunlight is green and gold where it filters in through the leaves, so close it's like they're in a treehouse.

"Cool," PK says, dropping his bags.

"Shower?" Carey says.

"Definitely," PK says.

The bathroom has a wooden soaking tub in front of a big picture window, and an open shower tiled in slate and river rock. The bath products are all unscented, some brand PK doesn't recognize. PK washes the feel of the airport and the long drive off his skin. He comes back out just in boxers.

Carey's tucked their bags neatly to the side. He's standing by the window, flicking through something on his cell phone. He looks up when PK comes out, and the movement of his hand stops.

"Shower's all yours," PK says.

"You're okay with sharing the bed, right?" Carey asks.

"It would be kind of awkward if I wasn't, right, hubby?" He waggles his eyebrows at Carey, and Carey snorts, looks away.

PK picks through his suitcase carefully while Carey is in the shower. The agenda didn't say whether the reception was formal or casual, but you can't go wrong with a suit.

He chooses the grey summer weight suit with the button fly, and the button-down with the tiny cream and blue-grey check, the gunmetal grey tie. He goes with the oxblood belt for a pop of color.

The suit survived the flight intact, but he has to iron the shirt, which is what Carey finds him doing when he pokes his head out of the bathroom, toothbrush in hand.

"It's not that fancy," Carey says.

"An ironed shirt is not fancy, Pricey."

Carey shakes his head. PK decides against the tie, though.

He's reaching for his undershirt when Carey says, "Could you wait?"

"What?"

Carey steps in close, near enough that PK has to lift his chin to meet Carey's eyes.

"It's just -- if we're supposed to mates, you should smell like me," Carey says.

"Oh," PK says.

Carey's hand hovers at PK's waist. "Could I...?"

"Sure," PK says.

Carey rests his hand on PK's hip and rubs his cheek against the side of PK's jaw and throat, almost nuzzling him. PK's skin tingles with warmth where Carey touches him. Carey pulls back and does the same thing on the other side of PK's face.

Carey lifts his head and his eyes are wide and dark.

PK clears his throat. "Better?"

Carey nods, then frowns, then shakes his head, not like he's disagreeing, but like he wants to chase a thought away.

"So no cologne then?" PK says.

He can almost see the effort it takes for Carey to smirk and say, "Please, that stuff you wear isn't cologne, it's rubbing alcohol."

PK puts a hand over his chest, mimes stumbling back like he's been stabbed.

Carey doesn't argue when PK pulls the undershirt over his head and goes to brush his teeth.

Carey ends up wearing dark jeans and a black button-down shirt with one of his big belt buckles and cowboy boots. He's also rocking a slightly dubious expression as he looks PK up and down.

"Really, it's not that fancy," Carey says.

"Like I'm going to let everyone think your mate is a slob with no fashion sense. I'm not going to make you look bad." He's joking, but as it comes out, he realizes he actually means it. He forces a bright media smile and adds, "You do that just fine on your own."

Carey's expression eases and he rolls his eyes, but PK can see the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

PK straightens his cuffs. "All right, let's go dazzle the Greater Pacific Northwest Werewolves."

::

The reception is on the lodge's outdoor patio. The sun hasn't set yet, but it's getting darker under the trees, and there are white twinkling lights strung up around the edge of the patio. There is a live three-piece band playing a song that PK doesn't recognize, and servers moving around with appetizers.

Carey heads for the bar and PK trails after him. Carey's mom intercepts them on the way.

"PK!" she says. "I'm so glad you could come."

PK kisses her cheek, but she turns her head a little, does something closer to what Carey had done, like she's scenting him.

"Good to see you, Lynda," he says. "It sounds like this is going to be a lot of fun."

"Well, I'm sure you didn't hear that from Carey," she says. She hugs Carey, and the two of them exchange a cheek rub. It's a werewolf thing, he realizes.

"Is dad coming?" Carey asks.

"No, he didn't want to be away this weekend, and we thought it would be good for Kayla to come instead, network a little, you know."

Her attention is caught by something over Carey's shoulder and her face brightens. She waves and an older man with long grey hair pulled back off his face comes over. He and Lynda do the cheek thing.

"Carey, you remember Billy O'Hop," Lynda says. "He's the dayi of the Entiako pack. Their territory is just north of ours."

"Of course," Carey says politely.

O'Hop nods back at him.

"And this is Carey's nelagui, PK Subban," Lynda says.

"Nice to meet you," PK says. He holds out his hand automatically, before it occurs to him that might be too human.

O'Hop just shakes it gravely.

"Lynda!" someone calls, and she turns around.

"Oh, Cherise! I'll just be a minute," Lynda says, and disappears into the crowd.

"How's, um, your mate?" Carey asks.

"She's good, she's at the bar, I think," O'Hop says.

"Good," Carey says

There's an awkward pause.

"So what are you most looking forward to on the agenda?" PK asks.

"I'm sorry?" O'Hop says.

PK pulls the agenda out of his jacket pocket and unfolds it. "I'm definitely going to the multispecies pack talks tomorrow, but I can't decide between the poetry slam and the 'Cultivating a Diverse Prey Base in Semi-Developed Territories' talk in the afternoon."

"Oh, the poetry, definitely," O'Hop says. He leans in to look at the schedule. "And my nelagui really wanted to see, hmm, what was it again..."

O'Hop calls his mate over, and she brings couple of other people with her. By the time Lynda comes back, everyone is laughing and talking easily. They've moved on from the current agenda to stories about things that happened the Symposium in years past. Even Carey's relaxed enough to offer up a couple of deadpan comments.

"Delighted to meet you, PK," O'Hop says finally. "Good to see you again, Carey, Lynda."

Lynda gives PK a glass of wine, and a pleased look. "I knew Carey was right to pick you as his nelagui. He's never been good at being friendly and outgoing at these kinds of things."

"Mom," Carey says.

"Thanks," PK says, weirdly touched.

::

It's barely ten o'clock when they get back to their room, but PK is wiped.

"I'm going to bed," he says. "You can stay up if you want."

"Nah, bed's good," Carey says.

PK strips down to his boxers, hangs his suit up in the closet. He brushes his teeth at the sink next to Carey. Carey makes a face at him in the mirror and PK hip checks him gently.

It makes him feel like a rookie again. It's been a long time since he shared a hotel room with someone on the road. Well, someone he wasn't dating.

PK slides under the covers with a sigh. Nice thread count on the sheets, too.

Carey turns off the bathroom lights and gets in on the other side of the bed. "Alarm?" he says through a yawn.

"Got it," PK says, making sure his phone is plugged in.

"Mmm. Night," Carey says.

"Good night," PK says quietly, and turns off the light.

::

The piercing beep of his phone's alarm eventually makes it through the nice dream he was having, something about sunshine and a meadow.

PK drags his eyes open. He's warm, because Carey is wrapped around him like an octopus, his arm around PK's waist, his face pressed against the back of PK's neck. It feels good in a way that PK doesn't want to think about too closely. He reaches for his phone, manages to make it snooze before he drops it.

"Ten more minutes," Carey mumbles against his shoulder.

Ten more minutes does sound good, but... "I gotta take a shower," PK says.

The arm around him tightens, and Carey makes a low noise, almost a growl, in the back of his throat.

"No shower," he says. His voice is gravelly with sleep and he rubs his cheek against the curve of PK's shoulder. "You smell like mine."

PK swallows. "Okay."

Carey hums, satisfied, and his breathing evens out again. PK lies there, wide awake now, trying to match his breathing Carey's steady rhythm, until his alarm goes off again.

Carey jerks awake with a grunt this time, flopping over onto his back. "Ten more minutes," he say, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes.

"You already had ten minutes," PK says, sitting up, and Carey freezes. PK smacks the back of his hand against Carey's thigh. "But I'll use the bathroom first."

He pisses and washes his hands and face, brushes his teeth. He doesn't shower.

::

In the breakfast buffet line, PK leans into Carey's back and hooks his chin over Carey's shoulder to read the sign with the menu.

"How fresh is the 'house-made venison sausage' do you think?" he murmurs in Carey's ear.

Carey tenses for a second, and PK is expecting him to do what he always does when PK gets touchy-feely with him, which is stand still and pretend he doesn't want PK to touch him.

But ahead of them, a woman laughs and puts her arm around her friend, leaning their hips together, and all the tension goes out of Carey. He leans back into PK.

"Probably not as fresh as you're thinking," he says, a little curl of a smile on his mouth. "I don't think there's enough deer around here to supply all the Symposium attendees' sausage needs."

"Well, not anymore," PK says, and the line starts moving again.

The sausage is delicious.

::

They have time after breakfast to visit the poster session before the talks start.

According to the agenda, it's a bunch of high school students who submitted posters about their Community Building activities.

"That's adorable," PK says. "So is it a big deal to get selected?"

"Yeah," Carey says. "It's definitely something for the college application."

PK's still reading the titles of everyone's posters, so he almost misses the room. Carey puts a hand on the small of his back and steers him in the right direction.

"So did you do a poster?" PK says.

Carey leaves his hand on PK's back as they head towards the first row of posters.

"No, I was too busy with hockey. Kayla did, though."

The students are all wearing suits and ties, or dresses, and they look both proud and nervous, standing next to their posters.

PK makes sure they spend at least five minutes in front of each poster. He asks questions, too, but he knows they're pretty basic. Carey's the one who asks the thoughtful, insightful questions, the ones that make the kids stand up straight and glow with enthusiasm.

They get asked for autographs a couple of times, and they both smile and sign, and every time after he hands the paper back, Carey puts his hand on PK's back again.

Carey always loosens up around kids, so maybe that's it. PK lets himself lean a little into Carey's side as they walk, and doesn't question it, doesn't question Carey's easy smile.

But he keeps doing it once they're done with the poster session. They go to a couple of the hunting talks, and Carey spreads his knees to press his thigh against PK's when they sit down, rests his arm on the back of PK's seat.

PK asks a question at one point, and Carey ducks his head in close to whisper an answer in his ear. Carey does the cheek nuzzle thing before he pulls back, his skin warm and soft against PK's, and PK doesn't remember a single word of what he said.

PK blinks, and Carey nods and smiles at an older woman sitting a few rows up. She nods back, smiling indulgently, and turns back to the talk.

Right. Carey is just showing everyone what they expect to see. Wolves are very tactile with their mates, their packs, after all. But that doesn't mean PK can't enjoy Carey taking the initiative for once. He shifts his weight, presses his knee more firmly against Carey's.

Carey shoots him a tiny smile and leaves his leg there.

::

The multispecies talks are fascinating.

The woman who's moderating it is a wolf, and so is one of the male panelists. The other panelists are a human woman and a male hawk shifter. They introduce themselves like that, along with what pack they belong to. PK's never heard anyone say what they are like that this whole time. He wonders how many of the people in the audience aren't wolves. Carey probably knows, Carey could probably identify each one of them with his eyes closed.

The takeaway message seems to be "humans and other shifters do weird things, and here's how to understand and adapt to them; also, they think some of the things we do are weird, so make sure you're communicating clearly."

It's things like: humans aren't as comfortable with casual nudity and touching the core of the body in public. Cat shifters like being touched, but prefer to be the ones who initiate it if you're not another cat. Bird shifters like grooming behavior, but not puppy piles, at least not when they're under anyone.

"Humans and bird shifters don't have the same enhanced sense of smell as other shifters, so they can't read emotion or physical state as easily that way," the hawk shifter says. "And body language cues differ as well."

"So use your words," the human says, and there's a ripple of laughter in the audience.

PK suddenly wonders when the first time Carey heard this speech was. Because he remembers Carey being more touchy-feely when he was a rookie. It had been a rough year for Carey, hockey-wise, so maybe that was why he'd been so much more open to physical contact. Or maybe he heard this talk that summer, about how humans don't touch the same way as wolves, how it means something different.

It's not like Carey doesn't touch anyone. He wrestles with the guys all the time, he initiates the back-slapping and the full-body hugs on ice. But he holds back on any gentler kind of physical affection.

PK always thought that was just how he was, but now he wonders if it isn't, if Carey misses that.

On impulse, he leans over and nuzzles the corner of Carey's jaw, that quick bump of his nose and the turn of his head, so his cheek slides against Carey's.

Carey gives him a surprised look, but PK keeps his eyes on the panel.

Carey looks towards the front again, and he lets the back of his hand rest on PK's thigh.

::

PK's happy to let Carey touch him as much as he wants. He doesn't realize the trouble he's getting himself into until the poetry session.

The poetry readings are outside, in a clearing near the lodge. The lodge provided blankets (plaid, of course) and people spread them out on the grass in front of the poets. Some people have shifted, and there are wolves and a couple of coyotes lounging around as well.

O'Hop was right, the poetry is amazing. The rhythm is not quite what PK is used to, and he's pretty sure he's missing some of the body language cues -- there's definitely some stylized movement and gestures that he doesn't recognize -- but imagery is great.

The first couple of poets speak in English, but the next group speak a language he doesn't know.

He pokes Carey's leg and raises his eyebrows.

"It's the wolf dialect of the Carrier language," Carey says.

"Huh," PK says. He leans back on his elbows.

Poetry washes over him like water, incomprehensible but mesmerizing. The sun is warm and he's tired, and he finds his eyes drifting shut.

He opens his eyes and finds he has his head in Carey's lap. Carey is tracing absent circles against his scalp. He's not even looking at PK, his head is turned and he's smiling at Kayla, and his face is bright and soft somehow, and PK feels something crack wide open in his chest.

Carey looks down at him like PK said his name. He smiles at PK and PK smiles helplessly back, and the only thing going through his mind is oh, fuck me.

Because how can he go back to the way things were after he's had Carey touching him like this, smiling at him like this?

::

PK goes for a run after the poetry session.

"I need to move after all that sitting around today," he says, but really he just needs to -- not think for a little while.

There's a nicely maintained trail through the woods around the lodge, and he does the five kilometer loop. He thinks about doing it again when he makes it back to the start, but that's just avoidance behavior.

Carey's not in their room when he gets back. PK actually hesitates for a second before he turns on the shower. Smelling like Carey at dinner is one thing, smelling like Carey and five kilometers of old sweat is another.

Carey's texted him by the time he gets out of the shower, meet you down there?

PK texts back a thumbs up emoji and gets dressed, the suit pants from last night and a soft, thin, clingy sweater in a deep maroon color.

Dinner is on the patio again, but they've got the fire pit going this time. There's a circle of tasteful leather mats spread around the fire, for people who want to hang out in their wolf form, and tables and chairs set up further back. There's a buffet along one side that smells amazing. He doesn't see Carey right away when he gets there.

Kayla sees him, though, and waves him over to where she's standing by the bar with a couple other women.

"How are you liking the Symposium so far?" she asks.

"It's great," PK says, and the women grin at his enthusiasm. "It's not the kind of stuff you learn in school, y'know? Not if you're human, anyway."

"Your dayi hasn't been teaching you this?" the taller woman, Ellen, asks. She sounds curious more than judgy, but PK takes a minute to think about his answer.

"Our pack is mostly human, so Carey is more interested in adapting to what's best for the pack, instead of trying to teach us to be wolves, I guess. And I don't think it occurred to us that these are things we could ask about."

Carey -- and he knows it's Carey, he doesn't even have to look -- comes up behind him and slides his hands around PK's waist. He rubs his cheek against PK's, ducking his head to trail his nose along the side of PK's throat.

There is a moment where PK could ease up on this whole thing, pull back from Carey and make it a joke. But he can feel Carey smiling against his skin, and he just sighs and leans back into Carey's chest.

Kayla is watching his face. "Need a drink?" she asks.

"Yes," PK says. "Definitely."

Kayla gets him one of whatever she's having. PK is on his best behavior, so he only has two drinks, but it turns out they're a lot stronger than he's expecting. A lot stronger.

"Our alcohol tolerance is a lot higher than a human's, so we make our liquor stronger," Carey explains.

PK gives Kayla a betrayed look.

"I thought you knew!" she says.

He's not really drunk, just more buzzed than he intended, in that way that makes him feel loose and warm, makes him want to laugh and dance and touch people.

He dances with Carey, and when Carey wants to take a break, he dances with Kayla and Lynda, and then a series of older werewolf ladies, and several older werewolf gentlemen. Then he tells the band how great they are and adds them on Facebook.

"If you're done flirting with other wolves now…" Carey says.

"I'm not fl--" PK starts, then sees that Carey smiling at him, fond and amused. "Yeah, I'm done."

Carey puts his hand on PK's back and steers him back to their room.

PK manages to scuff his shoes off by leaning on Carey.

"I need to take a shower," he says. "I like smelling like you and all, but I don't like smelling like the fire pit and salmon. Man, that salmon was good, though."

"You-- Yeah, that salmon was good," Carey says.

PK tries to pull his sweater off and gets his arm stuck.

Carey huffs out a laugh. "Here."

He pulls PK's sweater the rest of the way off, then reaches for PK's belt. He's standing so close PK can feel the warmth of his body, and PK suddenly wants Carey to touch him again, the way he's been doing all day, but not just his back or his neck, everywhere.

Heat shivers over his skin. Carey lifts his head, eyes wide, nostrils flaring.

PK's heartbeat kicks up a notch, and he says in a rush, "We can ask."

"What?" Carey says.

"We can, the team should ask what you need from the pack, as a wolf. What do you need from us to be happy?"

Carey steps back. "We're not a real pack."

It hurts, in a way PK wasn't expecting. "We are! I mean-- we're not just co-workers, it's more than that."

Carey half-shakes his head. "Go take a shower. We can talk about it later."

::

Carey's already up when PK's alarm goes off. PK groans and slaps at it.

He stumbles down to the dining room eventually. He finds Carey's table, drops into the seat next to him. He does the cheek rub thing automatically now. He feels Carey's startled twitch, but ignores it in favor of stealing a piece of his bacon.

He feels a lot better after coffee, eggs, and one of those gluten-free waffles with local berries.

Lynda and Kayla are going to the wolf pack boundary dispute workshops. PK's going to the "Resolving Multispecies Pack Conflicts in Urban Areas" one, and he's dragging Carey with him.

The workshop is great, too.

They do an exercise on reading different species' body languages, and talk about how to prioritize pack objectives to make it easier to share territory with other packs.

In the breakout group, one of the facilitators asks Carey to talk about an experience with resolving a conflict in Montreal with another pack.

"Uh, PK fights them," Carey says.

PK smacks him in the shoulder. "Hey, officially the only wolf I've fought is Brouwer. Well, I fought Marchand, too, but he's a crow, so I don't know if that counts."

The facilitator looks like he's not sure if that's a joke.

"We play hard, that's how we deal with it when other packs come to town," PK explains. "We're not fighting over actual territory, we're fighting over the standings I guess. I don't think we've ever had a problem with another pack in Montreal."

He looks over at Carey, and after a moment, Carey shakes his head.

"What about resolving conflict within the pack?" the facilitator asks.

"I make PK deal with all of that, too," Carey says, deadpan.

PK rolls his eyes. "Not all of it. You deal with the stuff you're good at and I handle the stuff I'm good at."

PK always wants to cheer people up, to fix problems, but sometimes that's not what you need. Sometimes you need someone to listen quietly, to say, yeah, that sucks. Sometimes you need someone like Carey to tell you, you're doing good, keep working, keep fighting, it'll come.

Carey opens his mouth, then closes it, frowning like he's thinking about something. The facilitator is smiling and nodding.

"That's why having a nelagui who complements your skills is so important, whether they are the one who fights or the one who negotiates. Shen, can you tell us about trying to resolve a pack conflict in Vancouver?"

The focus of the group shifts, and PK gives Carey a tiny fistbump. "See?" he whispers. "We're awesome at this pack stuff."

Carey gives him a dubious look, still frowning, but he doesn't argue.

::

Saturday is the last full day of the Symposium, and the Midnight Howl is that night.

There's the awards dinner before, inside, all plated and formal. The "Best Poster" award is given out, a multispecies pack from Seattle gets an award for their work with shifter runaways, and an elder from a pack near some place called Caribou Hide gets an award for settling a boundary dispute between two packs that both claimed a Provincial Park up there.

After dessert and coffee, everyone reconvenes at the edge of the woods out back.

PK is wearing his running clothes, on Carey's advice. It's dark, the moon just the tiniest of slivers in the sky, the stars bright and heavy through the trees.

People are taking their clothes off, making neat piles on the patio before they step down into the forest. Carey hands PK a a black satin sleep mask.

PK's eyebrows go up. "I thought you guys were okay with casual nudity," he says.

Carey's already unbuttoning his shirt. "Nudity's one thing, but the change-- It makes a lot of shifters uncomfortable for humans to see it."

There are a couple of other people in workout clothes putting the masks on, too. PK nods, puts the blindfold on. It's disorienting at first, that total darkness, but then it's like all of his other senses sharpen. He can feel the cool, soft breeze against his skin, smell pine and leaf mold and earth, hear the rustle of leaves and the buzz of cicadas, the murmur of conversation, human and wolf.

The air hums with anticipation.

Something soft and furry bumps his hand, and he jumps. "Carey?"

The wolf licks his hand and leans against PK's legs.

"Can I take the blindfold off?" PK asks.

The wolf, of course, doesn't say anything. But he does lick PK's hand again.

"Okay then." PK reaches up slowly and takes the mask off.

He's surrounded by wolves, shaking out their fur, grooming each other, play-fighting, sniffing the ground enthusiastically. There are a handful of humans standing around as well, and some other shifters: coyotes, bobcats, a leopard, a big black bear.

There's a big timber wolf sitting right in front of him. He's panting, mouth open like he's smiling at PK.

"Carey?" PK says.

If a wolf could roll its eyes, this one does. Then he nodded his head, slow and deliberate.

"Cool," PK breathes. He shoves the mask in the pocket of his shorts and goes down on one knee.

Carey's cheeks and muzzle are white. The rest of his face is grey, shading into black on the top of his head and the tips of his ears. His eyes are the same warm brown as Carey's human eyes.

PK reaches out, stops himself. Carey shoves his head under PK's hand and PK laughs, amazed. His fur is thick, a coarse outer layer but so soft underneath.

Another wolf runs up and jumps on Carey. Carey rolls with it, snapping playfully at the other wolf's shoulder, and they wrestle on the ground.

"Kayla?" PK asks.

The smaller wolf wriggles free and shakes herself off, gives PK that wide, toothy grin, tongue lolling.

Then, off in the distance, a wolf howls.

It's like an electric current runs through the all the wolves around him. One or two howl back, and the rest burst into motion, running into the woods.

Kayla bounds past him, and Carey bumps his shoulder against PK's leg.

"Okay, okay," PK says and starts running, too.

Carey passes him, but doesn't leave him behind. They're on the trail now, the ground even and clear under his feet. But then the trail turns and Carey keeps going straight, and they plunge into the real woods.

PK slows his stride, trying not to trip or run into a bush. There's a flicker of movement in the corner of his eye as other wolves and a human lope past them.

Carey yips impatiently at him.

PK looks at the pale flash of Carey's fur in the darkness ahead of him and sighs to himself. Then he stops thinking and just runs.

Carey doesn't lead him astray. As long as PK follows the white flag of his tail, the ground under his feet is hard and even. Branches tug at him as he runs past, but nothing trips him or tangles him.

He feels like he's flying, the night air rushing past his face. His heart pounds and his blood heats, and his whole body is filled with the physical thrill of being in motion, of being young and strong and healthy.

He can hear the wolves ahead of him and other humans around him, all of them running together for nothing but the joy of running.

They crash into a clearing high in the woods, and the stars are sharp and brilliant above them, like he could reach up and pull down a handful of them. PK stops to stare up at them, his lungs heaving. Carey loops back and headbutts him in the hip, and PK sinks his fingers into the thick fur of Carey's back.

The other wolves have stopped, too, and across the clearing, a big, shaggy black wolf lifts his head and howls. The other wolves pick it up and it makes PK's ears ring, echoing back and forth, spreading out into the night. He laughs, full of the hot joy of being alive, and throws his head back and howls too.

::

PK is still floating on that rush of endorphins when they finally make it back to the lodge.

Carey trots up to their room beside him, brushing against PK's legs as they walk.

PK unlocks the door, holds it open for Carey. Carey sits down in the middle of room, tail curled over his paws. PK steps around him to turn on the bedside lamp, a soft, warm glow in the dark room.

"You wanna change back?" PK says. "I can, hang on--"

He pulls the blindfold out of his pocket and puts it on again.

The room is very quiet, and this time he can hear Carey changing, a slithering rush, a sound like cracking knuckles.

Carey doesn't say anything, and PK waits. He can hear the pad of two feet across the carpet, feel the warmth of Carey's body when he stops in front of PK.

Carey's naked, PK thinks, close enough to touch, and the idea sends a scalding wash of heat over his skin.

Carey inhales sharply.

"Last night, tonight, you smell like, like desire," he says, and there's something questioning and uncertain in his voice.

PK swallows, but it's not something he can lie about. "Yeah."

Carey nuzzles the side of his throat and PK's breath stutters. PK lifts his chin, exposing his throat. Carey makes a tiny noise, and then his mouth is hot against PK 's skin.

"Oh, fuck," PK says. He grabs Carey's waist to steady himself. "Are we doing this? Please, Carey --"

Carey lifts his head and kisses him, hot and fierce. PK gasps and kisses him back. His hands slide on warm, smooth skin, and digs his finger tips into the heavy muscle of Carey's back.

Carey pushes the hem of his t-shirt up and PK breaks the kiss to pull it up over his head. He's still wearing the blindfold, he realizes, and he lifts a hand to take it off.

Carey catches his wrist. "Wait, could you-- I can't think when you look at me."

"Sure, yeah," PK says. He'd say anything to get Carey to keep touching him.

Carey kisses him again, still holding his wrist. He nudges PK backwards until the back of his knees hit the edge of the mattress.

PK sits down hard. He can feel the air shift as Carey moves, but he can't see what he's doing. It's almost a shock when Carey grips his ankle, pulls his shoe off.

Carey pulls his other shoe off, then his hands are on the waistband of PK's shorts. PK lifts his hips and Carey pulls, and PK is naked.

For a long moment, Carey doesn't move, and all PK can hear is the harsh rasp of their breathing. PK flexes his hands on the bedspread, fighting the urge to pull the blindfold off.

Then Carey says, "Fuck, PK," very low, and touches him again, sliding his hands down PK's abs, over his thighs, crashing their mouths together again.

PK flails out and grabs Carey's shoulders. He squirms further up on the bed, pulling Carey with him, until he can stretch out on his back and tug Carey down against him.

He groans at the feeling of Carey's bare skin against his, Carey's lean, heavy body holding him down. Carey's hard, his cock pressing against the cut of PK's hip.

Carey grinds down against him, swallowing the ragged sounds PK can't help making. Carey pulls his mouth away and rubs his cheek against PK's jaw, presses a wet, open-mouth kiss to PK's throat.

He lifts his weight off PK and PK whines, his skin suddenly cold without the hot press of Carey's body.

"Shhh," Carey says and kisses his collarbone.

He kisses the curve of PK's shoulder, then bites him. PK jerks at the dull throb of pain, not enough to break the skin, but enough for him to feel the imprint of Carey's teeth when he pulls back.

Carey nuzzles his armpit, drags his mouth along the lines of his pecs, gentle, but with the promise of teeth beneath it. He lingers over PK's nipples until they're hot and sore and tingling, until PK is gasping and swearing.

Carey moves slowly down his body, alternating kisses and bites. It's like in the forest-- PK can't see where Carey will touch him next, but his skin becomes hyper-sensitive, attuned to the warmth of Carey's lips and the flutter of his breath in that moment before Carey's mouth touches him again. It makes every touch more intense.

Carey presses his face into the vee of PK's thighs, breathing in deep. His cheek brushes PK's cock, and PK's hips buck up.

"God, fuck, please, Carey--"

Carey lifts his head. His hand is suddenly wrapped around PK's cock, hot and rough, and PK lets out a thin, shocked noise.

Carey eases his foreskin back. PK feels the rush of Carey's breath against the head of his cock and that's the only warning he gets before Carey takes him into his mouth.

The lush, wet, enveloping heat is overwhelming. PK's spine arches and he comes so hard it punches the breath out of him, sets off starbursts of light in the dark behind the blindfold.

Carey swallows around him and PK shudders at the sensation, almost too much. Carey pulls off, and then his mouth brushes PK's, soft and gentle. It's gone before PK can pull himself together enough to kiss back.

Carey settle his weight on PK's stomach, his thighs on either side of PK's ribcage. PK hears the slide of skin on skin, Carey's ragged breathing, and he knows Carey is jerking himself off.

It is suddenly unbearable that he can't see, if they're only going to do this once, if this is just part of what they're pretending-- he has to see Carey's face.

"Carey, can I--" He fumbles for the edge of the mask.

"Yeah," Carey says roughly. "Shhh, yeah, don't smell sad."

He helps PK pull the blindfold off. PK blinks at the sudden light, and then his eyes adjust.

Carey is looking down at him, his cheeks flushed, eyes heavy and dark, mouth red.

"I'm not sad," PK says. "Fuck, Carey…"

He slides his palms over Carey's thighs and Carey's eyes flutter shut.

"C'mon, Carey, I wanna see," he says.

Carey's mouth falls open and he curls in on himself, coming in warm, slick spurts on PK's chest and stomach.

Carey slumps forward until their foreheads are pressed together. PK grips the back of Carey's neck, hold him steady until his breathing evens out.

Finally Carey lets out a long, slow breath and rolls off of PK to lie on his side next to him. Carey puts his hand on PK's stomach, idly rubs his own come into PK's skin.

PK is torn between thinking that's hot and laughing at how incredibly obvious Carey is being.

"I'm definitely taking a shower tonight," he says.

"Tomorrow," Carey says.

The thought of not moving is tempting, but he'll feel gross in the morning.

PK makes himself sit up. "You can scent me up all you want after, but I'm taking a shower now."

Some expression PK can't read flickers over Carey's face. PK hooks his little finger around Carey's and tugs.

"Come on, you could do with a shower, too."

Carey lets himself be coaxed into the shower. There's room enough for two--it really is a nice bathroom.

PK gets them in and out and back into bed with minimal groping.

"How well does making out work for transferring scent?" PK asks once they're under the covers.

"Pretty well," Carey says with a smirk.

They make out, slow and lazy, until PK can't keep his eyes open anymore.

Carey rubs his nose against PK's shoulder.

"It was killing me," he says, so soft that PK almost can't hear. "The way you looked at me like you always do, but you smelled like you were mine, like you wanted me, and none of it smelled like a lie."

"Carey, fuck, none of it was a lie. I mean, it was to other people, but I didn't have to fake anything."

Carey's watching him, his face cautious, uncertain.

"It felt, it feels real," PK says. He takes a deep breath. "And I want it to be real after tomorrow, too."

Carey curves his hand around PK's cheek and kisses him, fierce but sweet. "Good," he says. "Me, too."


::

PK's alarm goes off at some stupid hour in the morning. He flails around until he turns it off.

Carey makes a disgruntled noise and presses his mouth against PK's shoulder, wrapping himself more securely around PK.

"We're gonna miss the keynote speech," PK says.

Carey sucks a hickey into PK's shoulder, rocks his dick against PK's ass. "Once you've heard one Greater Pacific Northwest Werewolf Symposium keynote speech you've heard them all."

Carey makes a compelling argument.

They miss the speech. PK figures they can make it up next year.